Can Sleep Help Prevent Dementia?

The passing years have taught me that night time interruptions turn me into a monster and sound sleep boosts my mood. Now it seems that the crankiness caused by sleep deprivation has deep implications for caregivers. Sleeping well may help prevent dementia. And not sleeping?….You guessed it.

#sleep and dementia

Results of a recent study carried out by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, professor of neurosurgery at University of Rochester Medical Center for Translational Neuromedicine, suggests that sleep time is when our brains clean themselves. Nedergaard says that, “The restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.”

Details of the study appeared in an article by Mary Elizabeth Dallas, a reporter for Health Day. The writer explains that by using new imaging technologies, researchers were able to examine the brains of living mice to monitor the waste removal process that occurs during sleep. Dallas writes that investigators “discovered the brain has its own unique process, known as the glymphatic system, that is guarded by a complex gateway known as the blood-brain barrier.” By pumping cerebral spinal fluid through brain tissue, this system pushes waste into the blood stream which carries it to the liver. An interesting aspect of this process is that the brain actually uses more energy when it’s asleep. In fact, brain activity in study mice was 10 times greater during slumber.

Study authors explained that pumping cerebral spinal fluid is an energy intensive activity which may only be possible during sleep. It’s the rare time when the brain isn’t actively processing information. Sleeping brains also removed much more amyloid-beta, the plaque-building protein that’s been identified as the probable cause of dementia. Consequently, if care responsibilities are keeping you awake at night, you are not giving your brain a chance to do a critical job.

Professor Nedergaard observed that the study’s findings “have significant implications for treating ‘dirty brain’ disease like Alzheimer’s.” She hopes that further research will be able to help us understand how the brain’s cleaning system works and how we can boost its efficiency. My gut tells me she’s onto something important.  I know that good sleep enhances my health — and I’ve often thought of dementia as the ultimate “dirty rat”.


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